things you didn't know about vincent gallo's buffalo ’66

It’s actually a musical…

by Oliver Lunn
13 March 2018, 8:45am

When Buffalo ’66 came out in 1998 it wasn’t a universally adored indie hit. CNN, for one, called it “laughably repetitive and blatantly pretentious”. And yet, whatever the complaints, the director’s name was on everyone’s lips: Vincent Gallo. Here was a guy who could do it all: act, write, direct, paint, make music, you name it. With his directorial debut -- in which he seemingly did everything aside from the catering -- Gallo marked himself as the new darling of the American arthouse, following Harmony Korine and Larry Clark.

The film -- an achingly beautiful tale of a sensitive ex-con who kidnaps a girl and forces her to act as his wife in front of his parents -- turns 20 this year and it’s lost zero charm. Consider: Christina Ricci tap-dancing in a bowling alley to King Crimson’s Moonchild; or the opening credits over which Gallo sings, “all my life I’ve been this lonely boy”; or the actor himself in red boots and a tight leather jacket. To celebrate its birthday, we’ve dug up a bunch of things you probably didn’t know about your favourite Gallo movie.

It’s not as autobiographical as you think
When you watch Buffalo ’66 you might think that Billy Brown is basically Vincent Gallo. I mean, Gallo grew up in Buffalo himself, so there is that, but not every detail parallels his life. “People who don’t know me feel that the film is probably autobiographical, which it isn’t,” he explained in an interview with Eric Mitchell. “Only the mother and the father characters are, but [people] feel that I’m probably playing myself in the film. What I’m actually playing is, I’m playing my father or what I would have become if I let my father’s heavy impact stay in my life. And what I play in the last five minutes of the film is me on a really good day.”

He was “mean” to Christina Ricci on set to help their performances…
When Christina Ricci was promoting the movie on Conan, the talk show host asked her about the infamous off-screen tension between Gallo and Ricci. “To create this unlikable character, he was actually mean to you off camera?” “Well, yeah, because he was really getting into his character and it was sort of scary because I didn’t know that he was doing this,” she explains. “And he was really nice before we started actual production. Then once we started production, before takes and stuff he’d yell at me. Not really yell, but he’d told me once, he said, ‘Oh look at you with those two pimples.’” She adds: “Then I realised he was just in character… I guess he wanted my reaction to be sincere – which it was.”

His background as a painter was important to the film’s aesthetic…
Buffalo ’66 was shot by Spike Jonze’s go-to cinematographer, Lance Acord. But the look of the film – specifically the composition and colours – was down to Gallo. “My background was as a painter, and as an artist, so composition was very important to me,” says the filmmaker who was in a band with Basquiat and produced paintings throughout the 80s. “I obsessed on camera position … I didn’t want to make a film that was influenced by contemporary rock videos or contemporary commercial directing or even contemporary cinema, which is very self-conscious and quick-paced.”

He was completely broke after the film’s release…
If you think Gallo’s movie turned him into an overnight success who all the suits threw cash at, you’d be wrong. He was flat-out broke after the film’s release. “My film is the Number 1 Independent Box Office Film; I haven’t been offered a job of any kind,” he says in the same interview with Mitchell. “Now, I wrote, directed, produced, starred in and did the music for the film; I haven’t even been offered work as a PA yet.” Mitchell points out that Gallo wouldn’t take a PA job anyway, to which the filmmaker responds: “You know, for the right price… I’m in trouble right now. I had to borrow a car just to come here today.”

He had an extremely awkward TV moment with critics who said unkind things about the movie…
The creators of this Sky TV movie show had a genius idea. Namely, to have a bunch of critics discuss a new movie, say what they really think, and then wheel out the director himself as a surprise. In this case, before Gallo appears, one critic says: “You wish that [Gallo] had someone breathing over his shoulder, whispering, Actually, Vincent, maybe we can do without this bit.” In waltzes Gallo, clad in an all-blue tracksuit. You can almost hear their stomachs sink when they realise what’s happening. To one, Gallo says: “You didn’t do your research and really read about where I was coming from.” To another: “You, I don’t know what to say, because your comments are so convoluted I don’t know what you meant; I guess you just didn’t like the film because maybe you’re bored with cinema.”

He shot it on an ancient film stock that almost couldn’t be developed…
In an interview with The Public, Gallo reveals that he used what’s called reversal stock, a near-obsolete kind of film. “[Reversal stock] was developed years ago for news photography, so that you could film something and show it right away without making a print,” he says. “But it’s never used in 35mm cinema because it’s virtually impossible to make a negative, which you need in order to make multiple prints. It’s very hard to light – I had to use tons of light to make the film work. And you can’t really color-correct it once you’ve processed it … With reversal stock, you have to light precisely, you have to art direct your colors precisely, because there’s not much you can do with the film afterwards.” So yeah, this is basically why those colours look so luminous.

The movie is actually a musical…
Most of the music in the movie, bar a couple of songs, was made by Gallo. “No one notices [the music], the film is a pure musical,” he says. Most people will see the tap dance scene, in which Ricci taps to King Crimson’s Moonchild, and nod in agreement. But it goes beyond that scene. “That’s how it was conceived by me: it’s a musical and the musical numbers are significant, and they’re traditional musical numbers in a way. And certainly my creative sensibility – my aesthetic, my point of view – was certainly formed and developed through listening to and playing music.” He does add that his musical is not your regular musical: “I wanted desperately, desperately, to make a musical; I just wanted to make a very unique, subtle musical.”

Vincent Gallo
Christina Ricci
buffalo '66